Despite increasing consumer awareness about online and other identity theft risks, criminals seem to be pilfering information and money at higher rates. According to a 2013 Identity Fraud Report issued by Javelin Strategy and Research, 2012 saw a year-over-year increase in identity theft of over 1 million victims. In fact, in 2012, fraudsters pocketed over $21 billion, which is the highest amount reported since 2009.

As criminals become more adept and creative at slipping fingers into consumer pockets, individuals must become more vigilant in protecting their information. One way you can stay safer when shopping online is to look for the right badges in online shopping carts.

SSL Certifications Vs. Trust Badges

Depositphotos_3774944_xsOnline vendors know that trust is important, especially when asking consumers to share credit card or banking information over the Internet. In a bid to promote consumer confidence and increase sales, eCommerce sites use a variety of design strategies to communicate trustworthiness. One thing most sites do is place badges on shopping cart pages to indicate the process is safe. The badges are generally from recognizable consumer protection or technology companies such as Norton, McAfee, or the Better Business Bureau. Not all badges are created equal, though.

There’s a difference between SSL badges, which indicate a certified level of tech is protecting the shopping cart, and trust badges. Trust badges simply indicate the site or company is considered trustworthy. Usually that means a third party, like the Better Business Bureau, recommends the company or certifies the company’s consumer practices are ethical or fair. Surprisingly, in a 2013 study asking participants to rate confidence in site badges, three of the top four companies trusted by participants were providers trust badges rather than SSL badges.

Check for SSL Encryption

The presence of a trust badge doesn’t mean a site isn’t encrypting shopping cart information. Encryption means that the site is encoding your credit card and other personal information as it sends it through the payment portal. Company employees won’t be able to access all of your payment information this way, and encryption provides another level of protection against hackers.

Some sites display multiple badges. Others indicate in text or other icons that the cart is SSL encrypted. To increase data safety when shopping online, look for badges from top SSL companies such as Norton, Symantec, RapidSSL, Thawte, and GeoTrust. You can also check the browser bar to ensure you are on an encrypted site. When you hit the encryption portion of the shopping card, the URL will change: Encrypted pages begin with https rather than http.

Use Common Sense

If you’ve a regular online shopper, you’re probably familiar with high security shopping cart procedures such as those at companies like Amazon or Walmart; use common sense when shopping on smaller sites. The presence of an SSL badge is a good sign, but it doesn’t guarantee safety. Fraudsters may imitate a badge. If something seems suspicious, investigate before sharing your information. Look for contact information such as address and phone number as well as documentation of a privacy policy. If you don’t feel safe entering your information online, call the company and share your concern or consider shopping elsewhere.

While common sense measures and an understanding of site badges can help you protect your information, there’s always some inherent risk to your information when you share it online.